Fake Ordnance Rifles to fill the lines: Gilbert Guns

The average visitor to Gettysburg will stand beside this gun without pause, thinking its a real, authentic Civil War field piece.

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Replica 3-inch Rifle in the Gettysburg National Cemetery

But on close examination this gun is not an authentic Civil War weapon. Instead this is a replica which dates to the early days of the Gettysburg park –  one of perhaps a couple dozen cast for the Gettysburg commission in the 1890s.  This particular gun represents the 1st Massachusetts Light Battery, along with an authentic 3-inch Ordnance Rifle, in Gettysburg’s National Cemetery.

The bore has crude rifling and very poorly masked machining marks.  Some examples have irregular or off center muzzle faces.

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Muzzle of Replica 3-inch Rifle

And of course these lack any markings.

Likewise the trunnions have flaws which could not escape even the most lenient ordnance inspector.

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Right Trunnion of Replica 3-inch Rifle

But most notably, the breech profile differs from authentic 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  The elongated breech better resembles some Confederate guns or perhaps Blakely field guns.

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Breech Profile of Replica 3-inch Rifle

The generously rounded knob joins the breech with just a hint of neck.  Compare this to an authentic 3-inch Ordnance Rifle just steps away.

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Breech Profile of 3-inch Rifle #360

From a distance, the replica resembles the authentic gun well enough to fool most observers.

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Replica 3-inch Rifle in the Gettysburg National Cemetery

But on close examination, items such as the squared rimbases, lack of sight fixtures, and breech profile give away the reproduction.

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3-inch Ordnance Rifle #785 in the Gettysburg National Cemetery

Like the Parrott replicas I mentioned some time back, the 3-inch rifle replicas are products of Calvin Gilbert, a veteran of the war and a captain from the 87th Pennsylvania who operated a nearby foundry.  When the Gettysburg commission came up short on 3-inch rifles to represent all the batteries on the field, they turned to Gilbert.  In addition to the 3-inch and Parrott replicas, Gilbert also “falsified” 6-pdr smoothbores and James rifles into Napoleons.  Now days we accept plenty of replicas and reproductions on the battlefield.  Some better than others, but a necessary allowance due to the limited number of artifacts that remain.  Gilbert’s guns were the first attempt at such a reproduction – over 100 years ago.

While not “authentic” pieces, these guns have a history and story to tell.

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